Remarks by Satya N. Nandan

Article excerpt

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the Convention) is the most successful multilateral treaty adopted by the international community since the Charter of the United Nations. Its provisions govern some seventy percent of our planet. It has established certainty in the international law of the sea in place of the chaos that preceded it. The Convention clearly sets out the basic legal structure or framework for ocean use and management within which all states must operate. In doing so it has contributed immensely to the global system of peace and security of which the Charter of the United Nations is the foundation.

In reviewing the old law and revising it or, where necessary, replacing it, and by introducing new concepts and norms to meet the current needs of the international community, the Convention has revolutionized the international law of the sea. It is comprehensive, complex, and multi-faceted. Its impact has been far-reaching. It has changed the political and economic geography of the world as over the past thirty years states have adjusted to the new concepts and in particular, the new zones of jurisdictions. The broad acceptance of the Convention is in large part due to the delicate balance it has achieved between the interests of coastal states and that of the international community as a whole in the many and varied uses of the ocean space.

The Convention has resolved critical legal issues, some of which had eluded agreement for centuries. The prime example of this is the breadth of the territorial sea, which has finally been settled at twelve nautical miles with a guaranteed right of passage for international navigation in those waters, together with rules to ensure free and unhampered passage of vessels and aircraft through and over vital straits used for international navigation around the world.

The success of a multilateral treaty, such as this Convention, depends on two essential elements: first, the level of adherence to it by states; and second, its uniform and consistent application in state practice. In both these areas the Convention's achievement has been remarkable. There are, as of March 30, 2012, 162 parties to the Convention. This is very impressive and beyond all expectations. Those few states that have not yet become parties have certain specific problems peculiar to them. Some are unable to amend their constitutions; others are waiting for their legislature to provide the necessary consent for ratification or accession; and others have bilateral problems with their neighbors. Among these are Ecuador, Iran, Peru, Turkey, the United States, Venezuela, and a number of newly emerging states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. In practice, however, most of these states acknowledge that the provisions of the Convention reflect the current international law of the sea. Indeed, the Convention has been recognized as the preeminent source for the international law of the sea by states, the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and other judicial and arbitral bodies dealing with marine-related issues.

If one examines the practice of states, with very few exceptions, there is a remarkable level of consistency and uniformity in the interpretation and application of the provisions of the Convention. This can be seen in the establishment of the zones of jurisdiction: approximately 141 coastal states have established a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles in accordance with the Convention; similarly, 136 states have declared 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic or fisheries zones. Further evidence of the Convention's influence lies in the fact that the three institutions established by the Convention are all operational and are widely supported by states parties to the Convention. Each of these institutions is contributing to the proper and effective implementation of the Convention.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is functioning effectively and has a docket of 18 cases, which shows that states have confidence in the Tribunal. …